WROCLAW/WARSAW: The Greek people vote within hours on whether they want to stay in the euro; no doubt, though, about their love of the Euros writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Their footballer team and the Czech Republic are heading into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 after two dramatic simultaneous matches on Group A’s decisive last evening.
Greece owed progress to a goal right on half-time from Giorgos Karagounis against the Russians in the National Stadium in Warsaw while the Czechs beat Poland in Wroclaw with a counter-attacking strike from Petr Jiracek.
Czech Republic, beaten 4-1 by Russia in their first game, ended up winning the group with six points followed by Greece on four. The latter’s victory over Russia mean Dick Advocaat’s men finished third in the head-to-head reckoning . . . and co-hosts Poland finished bottom: three games played and only two points to show for it.
That outcome had appeared wildly unlikely before the games and even in the opening minutes in Wroclaw when Poland charged forward as if about to crush the Czechs into the turf.
They could have settled it in the opening 10 minutes. Twice Robert Lewandowski was not far off, Ludovic Obraniak hit the side net with a free kick and Sebastian Boenisch pulled a shot wide. For Petr Cech, in the Czech goal, the Polish pressure was as relentless as the rain which cascaded down into the Municipal Stadium.
String of openings
Yet, after the Poles failed to capitalise, so their attack slowly subsided. Hence they and the Czechs went in goalless at half-time – just as Karagounis, cutting in from the right, shot Greece ahead in Warsaw against a Russian side who had only themselves to blame for wasting a string of openings.
Back in Wroclaw the Czechs, who would have been through with two draws, were now going out. They had no option but to go for a win. They did so with commitment and endeavour which took the Poles by surprise.
The hosts lost shape and momentum and were saved from their own failings only because the Czechs lacked penetration. But only for so long. As time went on they began to pressure Przemslaw Tyton in the Polish goal. He made one sharp stop and clearance from Tomas Sivok but was beaten in the 72nd minute by a superb strike from Petr Jiracek on the counter-attack.
Back in Warsaw the Greeks were growing in confidence as their match ran down. Igor Denisov went close once for Russia but Giorgos Tzavellas went even closer to a Greek second goal when he was denied only by Vyacheslav Malafeev’s crossbar.
In Wroclaw Lewandowski had an effort cleared off the goal-line in the last second before referee Craig Thompson blew his final whistle. The Czechs celebrated wildly, the Poles collapsed . . . one minute later it was repeat time in Warsaw: glory for Greece, grief for Russia.
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